You will not have missed the growing media attention surrounding the investigation into claims that Islamic fundamentalists have strategically taken over the governing bodies of schools and academies in Birmingham.
So, let’s look beyond the sensational headlines and delve into the facts, answering the questions you might have about schools and their pupils with regards to faith.
Establishing religious character
Schedule 1 of the Establishment and Discontinuance of Schools Regulations 2013 specifies information that the proposers of new schools are obligated to provide the DfE, including whether the proposed establishment leans towards any particular faith group.
Once the initial proposal has been approved, local authorities and governing bodies cannot deviate from or change the school’s religious make-up, without first closing the school in its current format and submitting a fresh proposal to establish a voluntary school with a different religious character. This will enable staff members and registered pupils to terminate their association with the old school and transfer to an alternative school, if the religious denomination of the new school is no longer amenable to their own value systems.
Where a school is secular and does not prescribe to a specific religion, the school leadership is prevented by the Equality Act 2010 from discriminating towards any pupil or staff member on the basis of their religious beliefs, even if the majority of the governing body leans towards a particular faith.
The provision of services, including the curriculum, must also be free from discrimination towards a particular faith, and secular schools are obligated to teach religious education in a holistic manner.
Schools with a religious character
Only where a school has been established with a specific religious denomination, is the governing body exempt from certain aspects of the Equality Act 2010, including provisions prescribing non-discrimination in the following areas:
- Admission arrangements
- The way it provides education.
- By not providing education for the pupil.
- By not affording the pupil access to a benefit, facility or service, including collective worship.
Governing bodies of faith schools should be aware that all other aspects of the Equality Act 2010 remain applicable.